How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA

 In Book reviews, Building Successful Partner Channels, Business Model Management, Entering Foreign Markets, Featured

It was in the latter half of the 1980s when I realized that it was more efficient to help customers buy than it was to try to sell to them. It was not a big revelation that suddenly struck me, but a thought that slowly matured as I started a new job.

In 1986, I accepted a role to become the Sales and Marketing Director with a startup. One that had invented a whole new way of doing things and didn’t yet have a single customer. The product wasn’t quite finished, but on paper, it looked very promising. In addition to driving revenue, my task was also to build an organization that could scale revenue, that we, by the way, had decided should come through resellers. Since the product had international potential, we also decided that revenue outside Denmark should be generated as soon as possible.

How should it be done? Yep, that was my job to figure out.

It was a greenfield operation, and in front of me lay hundreds of tasks. During a run in the forest, it struck me that all the tasks could be boiled down to answering three simple questions:

  • Which customers will buy this?
  • Why do they want to buy it?
  • How will they buy it?

The three questions were the guiding principles for the development of all our marketing and sales tools, our partner program and it also formed the core of the training of our own and our resellers’ salespeople.

The startup became a huge success and convinced me that it is far more efficient to help customers buy than it is to try to sell them something. And though, over time, I have encountered a great deal of resistance to these principles, I still don’t think it is merely a matter of semantics or splitting hairs. In my view, sales activities are more successful if you view them as the facilitation of the customer’s buying process. You are there to help rather than to persuade.

So what is the difference between the two approaches to revenue generation?

The sales approach is about trying to convince or persuade potential customers to buy your product. You highlight all the benefits and the values it can create and show how other customers are thrilled with you and your solutions. You believe that if you can only make the customer see the value, then she will find the budget and buy.

The buying journey facilitation approach is about first clarifying if there is and if you can support the customer’s buying journeys. If so, and it is likely that you could be selected, then you register the customer as a potential opportunity and invest resources in the project.

Please observe that the formal purchase process is just a subsegment of the buying journey. The full process is illustrated here:

The formal purchase process is covered by steps six and seven in the illustration. The buying journey covers all nine steps.

How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA

A few months ago I came across a book written by Martyn R. Lewis entitled “How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA”. The title caught my attention. It was released in August 2018 – so about thirty years after I made my first thoughts about seeing the sales mission as a facilitation of the customer’s buying process.

Could there be anything new to add?

There is, and I highly recommend the book to anyone dealing with revenue generation (business development, marketing, sales and account management – or customer success as it is now called). I am convinced that Martyn Lewis is on the right track, and he deserves credit for developing the terminology and method which, after reading the book, can be tried in your own setup. The results should be improved predictability, more revenue, better margins and lower costs.

What are we waiting for 🙂

The world has changed

Fundamentally, Martyn Lewis bases his theory on four overarching factors:

  • Salespeople miss the big picture. They push a product or a solution and try, through the value it, in theory, could create, to motivate the customer to take action. But the customer is already entangled in a myriad of other projects aiming to achieve similar value. It is a matter of pure luck if the salesperson gets the timing right for when the focus is on her domain. The outcome is that salespeople spend far more time on deals that they lose than on deals that they win.
  • Value is formulated too generic. The seller, who has no insight into the customer’s specific situation, formulates value in general terms such as better overview, higher productivity, lower costs, improved competitiveness and increased profits. First, customers can achieve that type of value with many other investments. Secondly, customers no longer listen to such claims that are identical to virtually all suppliers. And thirdly, the value ​​is targeted at the organization and not at the individual participant in the decision-making process. What benefits the organization as a whole seldom also benefits the individual decision-maker. Often the opposite is the case.
  • The Internet has changed everything. The role of the seller has changed fundamentally since the advent of the Internet. In their buying process, customers avoid salespeople for as long as possible. They make research and supplier comparisons without involving them before the final selection process and then only if needed.
  • Most buying initiatives run into the sand. Buying something requires substantial effort. Even when the customers themselves approach you, projects often stop and run out in the sand. Sometimes because other projects are more important, strategic or because the initiator resigns or gives up. Even excellent projects may fail to be initiated or approved because of a lack of internal resources.

I agree with the author on these statements. The assumption that a salesperson can activate an unrecognized need with a new customer and then drive a sales process to close a deal is the exception rather than the rule. Is such a philosophy a solid foundation for your revenue generation strategy? It seems that many companies still subscribe to this world view, probably because it leaves them with a belief that they are in control over their destiny. However, I believe it is an illusion. That’s not the same as saying that outbound or direct marketing activities are all in vain.

B2B and the complex decision-making process

Martyn Lewis’ book deals with business transactions between companies, and he begins by stating that the simple buying situation (a single decision-maker) is an extinct phenomenon. The vast majority of non-trivial buying journeys and decisions involve more and more people, with some naying, some nodding and some approving. In the buying journey and the decision-making process, the parties involved have different roles, perspectives and priorities. Thus, they have varying concerns and need different information.

The author also notes that companies buy differently and for different reasons. Therefore, he suggests dropping the idea of being able to follow a sales process and instead develop a method to decode the customer’s buying journey and then facilitate it.

To that end, Martyn Lewis defines what he calls The Customer Buying Journey DNA, which contains six elements.

Illustration based on Martyn R. Lewis’ book entitled “How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA”, Chapter 3.


The book has a chapter for each of the six elements:

  1. What initiates a buying journey? (Triggers)
  2. What phases does the buying process have? (Steps)
  3. Who is involved in making the decision? (Key Players)
  4. In which way does the customer buy? (Buying Style)
  5. What do the various buyers expect to get out of it? (Value Drivers)
  6. What concerns hold the purchase back? (Buying Concerns)

The Triggers chapter introduces three main motives for buying:

  1. Replacement (substitution)
  2. Extension (augmentation)
  3. Change (disruption)

Understanding the motive will help identify how the customer prepares to buy.

Instead of viewing her project as a replacement or an extension, some salespeople urge the customer to regard it as a change. That is the philosophy The Challenger Sales is pursuing. I fully support the principle of challenging your customers with the insights you have from similar cases. However, in keeping with a Danish tradition, I think you will be more successful if you apply the Kierkegaard principle:

To truly succeed in leading a man to a certain place, first and foremost, care must be taken to find him where he is and begin there.

Søren Kierkegaard, 1859

4Q Model Quadrants

In Chapter 7, which elaborates on the customer’s Buying Style, the 4Q Model is introduced, which in turn can tell the seller how the buyer perceives her situation.

Illustration based on Martyn R. Lewis’ book entitled “How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA”, Chapter 7.

The model is very similar to David Maister’s four types of consulting, which I also use in my book Management Consulting Essentials. One dimension is whether the customer accepts that she has a problem to which she doesn’t know the solution. Or whether she is convinced that she knows exactly what she wants. The second dimension is whether there is a reason to evaluate alternative supplier options, or whether time and energy are better spent discussing solution options with a single supplier. The customer’s perception is decisive for how you, the salesperson, can asses if you have the solution and how you can best help the customer buy.

The first part of the book concludes with a number of very detailed case studies. Here the author goes in-depth with a number of rather complex buying scenarios that illustrate how salespeople are misled by their focus on organizational goals, how they misunderstand the roles of the participants, and why customers do not buy into the apparently obvious benefits and values.

The development of a new revenue generation strategy

The second part of the book explains how the new buying-centric approach can form the basis for a revenue generation strategy.

The recognition that sales are the facilitation of the customers’ purchasing journey does not change the fact that all companies need to set sales budgets and initiate activities to ensure that they are met. The book’s part two is therefore devoted to the application of the new insight and should help the reader devise an offensive marketing strategy.

The big revelation, which is also in line with David Maister’s recommendation, is to focus on customers with one of the four buying styles described in the 4Q chart. To that end, Martyn R. Lewis defines the concept of the Macro Buying Journey as a common denominator for how your ideal customers source the kind of products and services that you offer.

He introduces an additional step in the AIDA model (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) which now becomes:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Commitment
  4. Acquisition
  5. Adoption

When he compares the energy and resources used by the seller and the buyer at each of the five stages, he arrives at this distribution:

Illustration based on Martyn R. Lewis’ book entitled “How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA”, Chapter 14.

The author explains that customers understand very well what benefits and values different types of products can provide. However, since the supply of opportunities is so vast, a great deal of energy must be spent convincing the organization and management which type of projects to pursue. The sellers systematically underestimate this phase, which does not involve an assessment of suppliers and individual products. It is at this point that most projects lose momentum and run out in the sand. Not because your product does not add value, but because there are other projects that win management’s attention.

The third and final part of the book describes how the tactical implementation of the buying-centric marketing strategy is tackled.

Title: How Customers Buy… And Why They Don’t: Mapping and Managing the Buying Journey DNA

Author: Martyn R. Lewis

Publishing date: 15 August 2018

Number of pages: 352

Price: $9.99 plus sales tax (Kindle on

Reviews: The book has excellent reader reviews on Amazon.

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